Follow the Journey

It’s often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Each of our participants is on a journey; it will be long, it will be hard, it will often have breakdowns and even wrong directions. But it will be worth it! Check in on them weekly and cheer them on.

MEET THE PARTICIPANTS

Meet this year’s featured participants! They are just a few of the produce industry professionals who are taking on the Clean Eating Challenge. These amazing men and women have stepped up to challenge themselves and have agreed to share their journey during the next several months. Get to know them and follow their journey to wellness. Let them inspire you!

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MONTSE DE LA ROSA

Hi, I’m Montserrat De La Rosa, 25 years old, and during the last 10 years I’ve been working to change my mindset into healthier and not forcing thoughts.

Through this journey, I’ve exercised 7 days a week (ballet, basketball, swimming, gym, spinning, tennis, Zumba, running, HIIT, yoga, physiotherapy), consumed weight loss

pills, teas, and milkshakes, applied fat-burning creams and injections, used body shapers day and night, drunk protein milkshakes to “substitute” some meals, got an apple watch to track my daily burned calories and the 60 mins exercise goal, etc., despite all those attempts I wasn’t even close to feeling good with myself because I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror.

10 years have passed and just a few months ago I realized that the solution to what my body was asking for was always at my sight, in my kitchen. I unconsciously ignored that the solution for all those failed attempts was eating healthier, YES, eating MORE fruits and vegetables.

2022 has been a mentally challenging year for me and this has taught me that before changing the world, I must begin by improving myself from the inside out. Last week I had knee surgery and the simple activities such as walking or dressing up by myself are getting difficult and must forget about not doing exercise for the next 6 months. So, I am accepting this Clean Eating Challenge as that step to get closer to my two short-term goals: accept myself first before anything to have a better-quality life in every aspect and recover my normal mobility.

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david schrader

Hello, my name is Dave. I live in New Hampshire. Since I was a kid, I was always active. Running, bicycling, swimming, etc. As I grew into adulthood, I stopped doing exercise and gained a lot of weight. I was 240lb in my late 20’s. My diet was the typical American diet, meat a few times a week, veggies, etc. In my late 30’s – early 40’s, I took up hiking and cycling 

again. I trimmed down to 190lbs. I have always had active and physical jobs. I worked in the Garden Center business for almost 35 years. Always on my feet, outside and moving. My weight has fluctuated over the years between 190 and 210lbs. In 2004, I became a vegetarian and didn’t miss meat at all. I took up road running in 2017 and became stronger and lost some pounds, but not as much as I wanted. I went to work at the Monadnock Food Coop in 2018 in the Produce Department. I LOVE this job. The past 3 years I have been the buyer for the department. Mostly a physical job, unloading produce pallets, building displays, and more. About 10 hours per week are spent sitting in front of a computer. I’ve been working towards going full vegan. I’m about 95% there and feel good, but I know I can do better.

In my spare time, I garden, play banjo and love sci-fi movies. I look forward to learning from this experience.

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susie rea

Hello, my name is Susie and I have had the privilege of working in the produce industry for just about 25 years. I have cultivated lifelong friendships and I am grateful to each and everyone of them for their continued support and encouragement throughout the years. I am currently a member of Index Fresh’s Business Development team promoting year-round supply of

avocados and feel fortunate to not only love to eat the fruit that I promote but I also stand behind the many health benefits that come with eating an avocado a day.

I grew up in San Diego County and enjoy the fantastic weather that California has to offer as it allows me to spend a lot of time outdoors doing the things that I love to do such as; playing tennis, hiking, walking on the beach.

I was very excited to hear about the Clean Eating Challenge and inspired by the videos I watched of the past participants success stories.  Such a great reminder that fresh is always better! 

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marcus cutler

Hello, my name is Marcus Cutler and I’ve been in the produce industry for over 17 years. I am a part of a 4th generation root vegetable distribution business and have the privilege of working alongside all of my family members on a daily basis. I have been following  the Clean Eating Challenge as well as the participants and have been getting excited about the 

potential of joining them in their success. Part of my goal in the clean eating challenge is how to reinvigorate and re-educate the industry’s and the worlds’ understanding the potato. I sell potatoes on a daily basis and would like to bring them back into my diet without being nervous about re-introducing them and other fruit and vegetables back into my diet. I hope to share my success in regiment and recipes with the hopes of influencing others to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to remove the bad carb stigma from potatoes.

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ashley nickle

Hello there! I’m Ashley Nickle, and I first encountered the wonderful world of produce in 2016. Starting out as a member of the trade media, I had the opportunity to learn from hundreds of industry professionals every year in the course of writing articles, recording videos and podcasts, covering trade shows and developing programs. Five years in, I found myself smitten with

the industry, and I wanted to work with companies directly to help them pursue opportunities I was seeing.

I started my own business in 2021, and it’s been an unbelievable joy to work with companies on custom engagements that support their goals. I’ve also been delighted to continue learning from industry members and sharing those learnings via The Produce Retail Podcast and The Produce Talent Podcast.

The Viva Fresh Clean Eating Challenge first caught my eye a couple of years back. The more engrossed in the industry I became, the more uncomfortable I felt that my own eating habits didn’t properly reflect my enthusiastic belief in the power of produce. I went through the challenge in 2020-2021 as a “background participant,” and the support and encouragement I enjoyed was amazing. Along with establishing a strength training routine and getting serious about food tracking, participating in the challenged helped me lose a significant amount of weight and experience huge quality-of-life improvements, from strength and mobility to confidence and mental fitness. While some weight returned, my quality of life remains so much better.

Here’s the thing: my life changed in a big way when I started investing more time and energy in my health, and it’s about to change again. My husband and I are expecting twins! It’s about to be a shock-and-awe situation in our household, and I want to get started now on building new habits and strengthening existing ones that will help me take care of my family. Produce has been a personal and professional gamechanger for me, and I know I’ll continue to see that in this next chapter as well. Thanks so much for coming alongside me in the journey!

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Nathan burton

Hi there! I’m Nathan Burton. I am 25 years old and currently live in Rexburg, ID.  I am married to my high school best friend; Remi, and we have a puppy named Margo who could pass as our kid with the royalty she gets at home.  I work as an analyst at Category Partners LLC in Idaho Falls, ID.  Category Partners is an analytics and consumer research company, focused on using

data to build insights and relationships in the perishables retail departments.  I opted in as a participant in this year’s clean eating challenge after having a co-worker of mine participate last year.  I am drawn to the challenge because of the team aspect and the focus on education for being healthier.  My goal in this challenge is to find a clearer balance and structure in all aspects of my personal health: physical, mental, emotional. Etc.  I am excited to participate and am anticipating positive results! 

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mattie fisher

My name is Mattie Fisher, I am 33 years old and live in FL. I am honored to join this amazing clean eating that focuses on eating more fresh produce. My BIG WHY for wanting to be a part of this challenge is to live a healthier lifestyle, but to also enhance my type one diabetes management by eating more produce. Having type one diabetes is an everyday challenge. 

There are no breaks or vacations, it demands my attention 24/7. By joining this challenge, I know I will be able to keep my overall diabetes health where it needs to be and will gain more understanding of how produce can benefit my overall health. This challenge means so much more to me than just losing a few pounds, which I will be happy about 😊, but also taking care of my type one diabetes which effects every part of my life and body. My hopes are to be successful in this challenge, but to also share my experiences throughout the whole process and to encourage others to choose a healthier lifestyle. 

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danny johnson

Hello, my name is Danny Johnson. I am 38 years old and very excited to start the Clean Eating Challenge. I have been in the produce industry for seven years. Over the last seven years I have work for the same company Martin Brothers Distributing. My roles are produce quality manager, HACCP coordinator, PCQI, and damage reclamation lead. I love internal auditing 

the industry, and I wanted to work with companies directly to help them pursue opportunities I was seeing.

I started my own business in 2021, and it’s been an unbelievable joy to work with companies on custom engagements that support their goals. I’ve also been delighted to continue learning from industry members and sharing those learnings via The Produce Retail Podcast and The Produce Talent Podcast.

The Viva Fresh Clean Eating Challenge first caught my eye a couple of years back. The more engrossed in the industry I became, the more uncomfortable I felt that my own eating habits didn’t properly reflect my enthusiastic belief in the power of produce. I went through the challenge in 2020-2021 as a “background participant,” and the support and encouragement I enjoyed was amazing. Along with establishing a strength training routine and getting serious about food tracking, participating in the challenged helped me lose a significant amount of weight and experience huge quality-of-life improvements, from strength and mobility to confidence and mental fitness. While some weight returned, my quality of life remains so much better.

Here’s the thing: my life changed in a big way when I started investing more time and energy in my health, and it’s about to change again. My husband and I are expecting twins! It’s about to be a shock-and-awe situation in our household, and I want to get started now on building new habits and strengthening existing ones that will help me take care of my family. Produce has been a personal and professional gamechanger for me, and I know I’ll continue to see that in this next chapter as well. Thanks so much for coming alongside me in the journey!

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shelly galeazzi
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brendan haslam

Good Day! My name is Brendan Haslam. I’m extremely excited to starting the Clean Eating Challenge. The challenge is something I’ve followed from afar since its inception. The willingness by past participants to take on this challenge, and the clean eating success participants have achieved, has inspired me to participate this year. 

My goal is simple: break some bad habits and start and continue good habits, with a core focus on eating more fruits and vegetables. I’m based just outside Philadelphia in Haddon Heights, NJ, where I live w/ my wife and two children. Looking forward to the weeks and months ahead as part of the CEC!

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bruce letchworth
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OUR PEER MENTORS

And let’s not forget about our Peer Mentors! Three of our mentors were last year’s Clean Eating Challenge Participants who did so well and loved the changes they made in their life toward better health that they wanted to help others in the same way. Two of them are brand new but have also changed their lives on their own or just have a passion for healthy lifestyles. Together, these five mentors motivate and lead our Clean Eating Challenge participants each week throughout this six month challenge in an effort to share what they know and what has worked for them. Read about them below and get to know them better!

Tommy wilkins

Last year I went on this challenge for a couple of reasons. I was on more medication than I wanted, poor lifestyle choices and the big reason, I became a Grandpa and want to be around to see them grow up. My journey took me out of the 260’s to the 230’s and then…Hello Covid. I took the mentor role for a couple of reasons. One to share what I learned and share any ideas I could, but also restart and

finish my journey. My new goal is to get as close to 200 as I can.

What a Blessing we can be for our families but also walk the walk to increase consumption of what we grow. I can’t wait for Viva Fresh and the results of our amazing participants, as well as my own.

james bassetti

I was born and raised in the Valley of South Texas.  I am a father of two young girls and they are a big reason for my “why” when it comes to living an active and healthy lifestyle. Growing up in a produce family, fruits and especially vegetables were staples on our plates.  This is something that my wife and I have incorporated into our own children’s lives to ensure healthy development. Having two young children has kept me accountable in terms of setting the

right example when it comes to remaining physically active and feeding my body with proper nutrition. 

When the opportunity to become a mentor for the Clean Eating Challenge came up I was very excited to be involved and share the insight I have accrued over the years to assist people looking for how to lead a more healthy lifestyle.  So far the journey has been insightful for me and I have really enjoyed working with the folks on the team.  Everyone faces a different set of circumstances or challenges and I think its great that we’ve put together something that can help support someone’s aspirations to improve their way of life.

tj flowers

I’m 44 years old, married, and father of two.  When I was 38 years old I weighed 225 lbs.  My triglycerides were close to 400.  My good cholesterol was low, my bad cholesterol was high and my A1C numbers were tracking towards pre-diabetes.  I often felt like crap.  I was especially lethargic at the office after lunch.  I was also always complaining about sore joints, bad knees, bad back, poor sleep and general malaise that I often attributed to getting older. Worst of all, I

THOUGHT that I was eating relatively healthy, and getting more exercise than most.  It turns out, that most all of my problems had more to do with poor diet and lack of exercise than getting older.  I went to a cardiologist who told me that if I didn’t change what I was doing, I would be diabetic within a few years.  I started making changes, slow at first, but gradually I noticed the positive results.  With a little momentum from success and encouragement family/friends/doctor, I was able to begin making changes that I NEVER would have thought were possible.  Now, at 42, I weigh 195 lbs and I’m in the best shape that I have been in since college and I’m still making strides towards a healthier me.  My numbers are all within a healthy range.  Best of all, what I’m doing is sustainable and I do not feel deprived from foods that I like nor do I feel like I’m “spinning my wheels” in the gym for no results. 

I try to exercise and be active throughout week but make no mistake, the best thing I did to achieve my current level of health was to eat cleaner, more natural foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables.

ashley porter

Last year I had the honor of serving as a mentor (shout out Team Fresh & Fab!)

I enjoyed it so much that I’m back! My healthy journey started in 2020 after being diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (auto immune disease).

You can hear all about my story on our clean eating YouTube vlogs or listen to my interview on the Fresh CrEd podcast episode 18.

I talk about the diagnosis, initial struggles along with the improvements in my bloodwork and decrease in medication prescriptions.

To date this is the most confident I have ever felt in my life. I’m most thankful for my support system and the encouragement that was given to me when first joining the clean eating challenge.

I applaud everyone who is finally putting their health first.  Making the decision is simple, but if this was easy everyone would be doing it.

Document your journey and share your story. You never know who you will inspire.

Serving you from Pflugerville, Texas your Friendly Produce Partner from H-E-B.

Ed bertaud

I’m 49 and I feel better than I did in my 30s. I wanted to prove my commitment to the industry and to my profession, and since then it’s become so much more. At the beginning of the challenge, my main motivator was essentially not to fail and to be a good example both for the industry and for Viva Fresh. I knew I needed to do this and I knew the accountability associated with everybody knowing about this challenge would keep me on the straight and narrow. 

I started where I didn’t want to fail, and I didn’t want to be the guy that didn’t make any gains or didn’t get any better. In passing one day, Craig Slate said to me, “I know one day it’s going to be the end for me, but how I choose that end to be I can affect now,” and that really stood out to me. Am I going to be actually living my life all the way to end? With this perspective shift, I took to the self-discipline necessary to successfully carry out the challenge. I didn’t expect to have the way I think about food change so much. When I really thought about food as a way to fuel my body, my life, and my lifestyle, it changed everything. I know it sounds corny, but I dare say it changed my life. When I began this challenge, I was on the borderline for needing medication for blood sugar and cholesterol, among other things. Since then, I dropped 45 pounds—and feel better than I have in years. 

MEGAN JACOBSEN

Farming is truly a labor of love. As a fourth generation born and raised farm girl from Fresno County, California, it is safe say that agriculture is even woven into my DNA. Although my upbringing was in the fresh grape, raisin and wine grape industry, the place I now call home is fresh veg. Every day I get to share with customers my passion for healthy soil and how we grow our food. I truly believe there is a magic found within fresh produce and being connected more to your food. 

 

Like the many layers found within an onion, holistic health and wellbeing has many 

 

layers too. For some of us, it is not as simple as cutting calories and/or exercising more. Genetics play a major role, however, it does not define an individual’s health on its own. Taking small steps to living healthier each and every day is choice we get to make. My personal journey through last year’s CEC is one that had many speed bumps – chronic back pain flare ups, blood glucose/A1C and fertility issues, to name a few. Choosing to eat fresh and continuing to move my body daily has helped mitigate these concerns. It is a privilege to pay it forward and co-mentor a team of four individuals in this year’s challenge. I hope I can only help encourage and inspire them as much as my CEC mentor did for me.

BETH KEETON
Hi y’all! Beth here, and I’m a fresh produce PR gal and the owner of Elephant House PR in Fort Worth, TX. As someone who tells compelling stories about the food we eat and the people who grow it, I knew I wanted to put my money where my mouth is last year and increase my own consumption of fresh produce. What started as a group “weight loss program” for me became a form of therapy and unraveling of unhealthy beliefs I had around food and health.
 
Thanks to a “world flipped upside down”

experience amidst the challenge last year, I realized how important exercise, mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health are alongside healthier food choices. I’m thrilled to see so many participants in this year’s challenge with unique goals pertaining to feeling better overall, making healthier choices, and getting stronger – for themselves and the people they love. I can’t wait to support this group on their own individual journeys and keep the momentum going for myself in the process!

Current Chronicles: SO fresh and so clean

Our Featured Participants are health warriors. They are busy cutting making healthy changes, prepping food, giving up soda, getting in their steps and learning to make better choices. You won’t want to miss their real-life stories about how it’s going. Tune in to experience their journey through their eyes (and maybe pick up a tip or two along the way!)
April Blog So, the Viva Fresh Show is a few days away and I wanted to Thank the Viva Fresh Committee for allowing me
Failure or New Reality? The Clean Eating Challenge did not come without its own challenges.  Learning what and how to eat clean in a